Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
The Los Angeles Times has attacked the decision by California's attorney general to file criminal charges against David Daleiden, the pro-life activist and Center for Medical Progress investigator whose secret videotaped conversations with Planned Parenthood staffers sought to expose the organization’s alleged trafficking in fetal body parts.
The videos, which captured abortion doctors callously discussing their efforts to protect fetal organs in high demand from medical researchers, deeply embarrassed Planned Parenthood, and prompted an ongoing campaign to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider.
On Tuesday, the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, confirmed that Daleiden and his colleague, Sandra Merritt, had been charged with 14 counts of illegal recording, and one count of conspiracy.
On Thursday, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times criticized Becerra’s decision to file criminal charges against the two pro-life activists.
“It's disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be,” read the March 30 editorial.
The newspaper's editorial board clearly did not agree with the values or mission of the two pro-life investigators, and the editorial concluded that the accused had failed to prove their claim that Planned Parenthood sought to benefit financially from the distribution of fetal body parts. (Ian Tuttle repudiates the media’s assessment of the video campaign in a blistering attack on press hypocrisy in the National Review.)
Nevertheless, the editorial questioned Becerra’s judgment.
“Planned Parenthood and biomedical company StemExpress, which was also featured in the videos, have another remedy for the harm that was done to them: They can sue Daleiden and Merritt for damages. The state doesn’t need to threaten the pair with prison time.”
Yet Becerra’s move was entirely predictable, in a one-party state, where Democrats now have a supermajority in the legislature and “abortion rights” remain a top priority.
Both Becerra and the state’s former attorney general, Kamala Harris, now a U.S. Senator, have received donations from Planned Parenthood, and Harris actually posted a link to the organization on her website during the 2016 election cycle. Such actions presented a clear and improper conflict of interest, during a time when Harris was also leading the state’s investigation of Daleiden’s videos.
As state Democrats consolidate their power in Sacramento, they have become increasingly intolerant of pro-life values and activism.
“Last year, California strengthened its privacy law to address situations like this one,” the New York Times reported in its own coverage of the criminal charges filed against the activists.
“The law already made it illegal to make such recordings, but said nothing about releasing them. The amended law now also makes it a felony to make the recordings public if they involve communications with health care providers.”
California law requires that all parties involved consent to the recording of “confidential communications.” But Katherine Short, a lawyer with the Life Legal Defense Foundation who has represented Daleiden in the civil lawsuits filed against him (but not in the criminal case), argued that the criminal charges were politically motivated and would not stand up in court.
The key statute in question deals with “confidential communications,” Short noted, but the videotaped conversations at the heart of the felony charges did not take place in a private setting where there would be a strong expectation of confidentiality.
“When David said, ‘Let’s go to a restaurant and talk over lunch,’” said Short, the presumption was that the conversation was not “confidential” and could be overheard.
The New York Times’ story acknowledged that the expectation of confidentiality would be a critical issue in a criminal trial:
The videos cited in the California complaint captured conversations over restaurant tables in El Dorado Hills, Los Angeles and Pasadena, and at a National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco where attendees had gotten credentials and paid a fee.
While California Democrats have already passed legislation that will impose additional penalties against future attempts to initiate covert investigations of Planned Parenthood, their position of strength in Sacramento will allow them to take further steps to secure abortion rights and quash political and religious resistance to the practice.
This term, NARAL Pro-Choice California has sponsored proposed legislation — the California Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act — that would restrict the right of church-affiliated ministries to employ individuals who adhere to religious prohibitions on abortion and related teachings.
Sandra Palacios, associate director for governmental relations at the California Catholic Conference, told the Register that the proposed assembly bill (AB 569) will likely feature a “narrow” exemption for employees of “house of worship” — but not an exemption for religious schools and social agencies.
Rebecca Griffin of NARAL Pro-Choice California told the Los Angeles Times that the state needed to set an example for the rest of the country.
“Right now, while we're facing a federal government that is attacking reproductive freedom at every turn and condoning the type of discrimination that this bill prohibits,” said Griffin, “we feel like this is the time for California to take a stand for our values and make sure that our workers have the best protections possible.”